Five of the biggest mistakes in Windows on mobile

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It's easy to look back from a world in which Windows-based phone hardware sales have dropped to millions rather than billions, and to point the finger at what went wrong. In fact, that's just what I'm doing here. Five of the biggest mistakes from my own perspective, at least, from devices to employees to misplaced spending.

Before continuing however, it's important to recognise that writing this article isn't about AAWP giving up.

There are still tens of millions of relatively happy Windows Phone users across the world and their phones aren't going to suddenly stop working overnight. We have Windows 10 Mobile for many of these people, with releases and updates still coming on the whole (with a little Insider ring juggling), we have UWP applications across the whole of the Windows 10 world, we even have some current hardware in the x3 and IDOL 4S and (hopefully) their successors. And with the hope of Windows 10 making a dazzling new 'mobile' entrance in the shape of ultra-portable, pocketable hybrids later this year or early next year.

So there's that.

But equally it's instructive to look back and acknowledge some genuine mistakes in the world of Windows on mobile.


5. Messing up the Lumia 930

It's a tribute to how good the Lumia 930 could have been that, even today, three years after a fundamentally flawed release, the 930 still has rabid fans and regular users, as evidenced from our comment threads. But the 930 ultimately became something of a turkey in terms of sales success, arriving late, thanks to Verizon in the USA snagging an exclusive on the design (for the 'Icon'). Then there was the huge mis-step by Nokia of not realising how important Glance screen was to users and, by the time people like us started calling them out on Glance's absence, it was far too late to do anything about the hardware, which had been penny-pinched and wasn't Glance-compatible.

Finally, there was the poor heat management - if ever there was a fundamental flaw in a smartphone's chip design. The 930 overheats at the first sign of load and I've often had to stop playing a game on it because the plastic back of the phone was - literallly - too hot to hold.

Lumia 930

Yes, the Lumia 930 was only one model, but it could have been pivotal at a crucial crossroads in the mobile world, in 2014 - it was highly specced and if it had been perfect then it would have been a really compelling alternative to the iPhones and Android devices of the time.

4. Not starting WP earlier

Touch 2Windows Phone 7 arrived in October 2010, so had been started internally (say) at the start of 2009. A full two years after the iPhone was announced and 18 months after it was available to buy. 18 months is an eternity in the mobile world and probably cost Microsoft a massive chunk of the phone market. 

Instead, through 2007 and 2008, Microsoft twiddled its thumbs, insisting that new 'skins' on top of the existing Windows Mobile 6.5 (built for stylus control and styled after Windows XP etc.) would be sufficient. Phones like the HTC Touch 2 and Touch Pro 2 weren't terrible, but they also didn't appeal to anyone new, whereas the iPhone was making new friends every minute around the globe.

In fairness, market leaders (then) Nokia and Symbian were late getting started too, and - arguably - even the first Symbian smartphones with capacitive touch (in late 2010) had UIs which still had huge nods to non-touch dialogs and elements from the past. Google and its partners proved by far the most nimble, getting the first capacitive touch Android phone out in September 2008, a two year headstart on Microsoft and Windows Phone, and a lead which only grew and grew.

3. Buying Nokia

This one has been debated to death on various podcasts and forums, but I believe the Windows mobile ecosystem of today would have been healthier if Microsoft hadn't bought Nokia's Devices division. Keeping Nokia as a major third party manufacturer and licensee, even with the necessity for a few subsidies here and there, would have kept everyone on their toes. Nokia had its own troubles, of course - poor management, poor communications, inefficient structure, but driving Nokia down to fire-sale prices and then snapping it up didn't really work out well for anyone.

First party (i.e. Microsoft) phones were never really going to set the world on fire - Microsoft isn’t Apple, the king of the zeitgeist. No company is, much as they like trying - it's not just Microsoft which has aimed and failed here.

2. Getting rid of so many of the most talented ex-Nokians

Getting rid of a large number of Nokia employees after the purchase was necessary, of course - as it is when any two companies join. There was overlap between Microsoft and Nokia in terms of roles, plus Nokia was overstaffed in the first place - but there's no excuse for the redundancies of many of the most talented engineers from Nokia, people who had become legends with their technical breakthroughs in imaging and communications.

Just when what the company really needed for 2017 was expertise in mobile. But now the people that wrote the code in much of Windows Phone/W10M's applications, the people that designed and specced the hardware in the Lumias, they're all gone, scattered to the four winds. A crying shame.

1. Stopping production of first party handsets and not spending money where needed

My comment on not having bought Nokia in the first place notwithstanding, Microsoft then compounded the mistake by stopping making the Lumia 950 and 950 XL in mid-2016, despite billions of dollars in the bank. Billions? Yes, Microsoft is a very rich company in terms of reserves, with over 100 billion dollars in the bank. And heck, this is after spending 26 billion dollars on LinkedIn.

Bringing to mind questions over things they didn't do, armed with all this money. Not wooing manufacturers with good financial deals, not throwing money at developers to create great apps to plug obvious holes in the app ecosystem...


What is the POINT of all this money if you don't spend some of it to ensure the future? The LinkedIn purchase was supposedly such a move, but I think it was money misplaced. How much would it cost to have set up a skunk works for a range of true flagship devices and arranged manufacturing? Say 20 million dollars. How much would it have cost to get a top developer to write a Snapchat client? Or, date I say it, a Facebook client that doesn't drain battery power and bandwidth like it's going out of fashion. Say a few million more? What about subsidising the likes of HP and Alcatel to reduce prices of their W10M handsets and get them more widely distributed? Another 50 million dollars?

All a drop in the proverbial bucket, compared to the stock losses from the industry perceiving that Microsoft is missing out on a large slice of the mobile pie and that the 'Windows 10 everywhere' vision is horribly flawed if 'phone' isn't part of that presence.


Comments welcome. What extra mistakes would you point to? I'm sure there's no shortage of choice!